The Tragically Hip – World Container

It never ceases to amaze me how a band can be so immensely popular in one country and right across the national border…virtually nothing. Such was the fate of The Tragically Hip.

In Canada, The Hip sold out arenas, topped the Canadian record charts with nine of their 13 albums, won 16 Juno awards – the Canadian equivalent of an American Grammy, and were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Yet across the border, in the United States, most people have never heard of The Tragically Hip.

I don’t get it.

This is a band that in their 33 year musical career, released 13 albums and every one of them kicked ass. Not a dud in the lot. Not even close.

Canadian rockers got The Hip. Americans never really did. I remember seeing them live at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1999. Over 20 thousand seats filled. I remember thinking “Wow! Maybe at least Detroit gets what The Hip were all about.

Then I noticed all the shirts and banners with red maple leafs on them. I bet over 15 thousand Canadians crossed the Detroit/Windsor border that day just to see The Tragically Hip play.

And for that day, I too was a Canadian rocker.

Well, at least for a couple of hours.

The Patti Smith Group – Easter

The Patti Smith Group may sound to some like an odd opening act for Bob Seger, but in early 1977 it kind of made sense, with her trying to without compromise, broaden her sound to a more mainstream audience. Unfortunately, Patti Smith broke her neck and nearly died during the second show of that tour. She fortunately recovered, but would have to wait until her next album, “Easter”, and for a little help from Bruce Springsteen to find that no-compromise crossover success.

It was January 26 when Patti Smith tripped over a stage monitor, plunging 15 feet onto a concrete floor in the orchestra pit at the front of the Tampa Florida stage. She cracked two vertebrae and had to get over 20 stitches to her head and face after the fall. The incident took her out of action for almost a year. I’m surprised it wasn’t longer.

After therapy following her neck surgery after the accident, Patti Smith and her group returned to the studio to record her third album “Easter”. Although the songs were a diverse mix between punk and mainstream rock, there was no potential that Smith’s record label felt were a breakthrough single. That is, until the album’s producer, Jimmy Iovine, turned Smith on to a song Bruce Springsteen had written but thrown away; a song that both Smith and her label found common ground on.

“Because the Night” became the no-compromise crossover that both Patti Smith and her record label were looking for. The song became the group’s biggest hit. “Easter” became The Patti Smith Group’s best-selling album.

Uriah Heep – Live January 1973

I never understood why Uriah Heep didn’t earn a reputation more on par with Deep Purple. The two bands had so much in common. The Heep rocked just as hard as Deep Purple. Their songs were just as solid, as was their musicianship. Both bands had amazing lead vocalists, especially early on – when David Byron and Ian Gillan had probably the two most amazing voices in rock and roll. And then there’s the Hammond B3 organ, which both bands used extensively to augment their sound.

One of the area where my ear felt Uriah Heep had a slight edge over Deep Purple was with their use of the synthesizer. In the song “Gypsy”, one of the two songs that grace side three of this double album, Ken Hensley plays an absolutely amazing Moog Synth solo. That’s followed by a powerhouse drum solo from Lee Kerslake. That song, along with the live version of “Easy Livin'” are reason enough to make Uriah Heep’s “Live January 1973” worth owning. When you tally in the other songs on it, this is easily one of the best live albums ever recorded.

Uriah Heep’s “Live January 1973” is a live album requirement for any rock record collection. Come to think of it, so is Deep Purple’s “Made in Japan”. So there’s another thing the two bands have in common.

The Nice – Nice

“Won’t you welcome please, a most distinguished group from England: The Nice.”

And so begins side 2 of the third album by the band where Keith Emerson earned his reputation as one of the greatest keyboardists in rock and roll. At this early stage in his career, Emerson had yet to begin his pioneering work using the Moog synthesizer. That would come a couple of years later in the supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer. So here, his talents are limited to just organ and piano. That is, if you could ever refer to Emerson’s playing as limited. Listening to “Nice” you can’t help but feel that it’s the instruments themselves that are limited in Emerson’s hands.

It’s easy to tell here how influential Keith Emerson was to ELP – and not just because both The Nice and ELP had keyboards as the main lead instrument. Like ELP, the songs on “Nice” integrate rock and roll with heavier doses of classical and jazz than do the psychedelic musings of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and the dark, moody prog of King Crimson, Carl Palmer’s and Greg Lake’s respective bands prior to ELP.  Then there’s the many pieces of Nice songs that were incorporated into later ELP tracks.

The standout track however, at least to me, is the live track  “Rondo ’69”, which was based on the polyrhythmic “Blue Rondo à la Turk” by jazz master Dave Brubeck, from his 1959 classic “Time Out“. “Rondo” became a keyboard showcase at Emerson Lake and Palmer concerts in the years to come.

I hate to admit it, but until the 1980s, when I started to expand my musical appreciations, I thought Rondo was an ELP original. Yeah, not even close. It’s pure Brubeck; the song is merely reinterpreted by Keith Emerson and the other members of The Nice. But I give them credit for the improvisational midsection. It was very…Nice.

Eagles – Live

The Eagles’ first live album was an obligatory record to both their record label and their fans. Unbeknownst to most of their fans but all too well-known to their record company, personal differences within the group had reached a boiling point by the time they finished “The Long Run”, the Eagles’ final studio album. Although no official announcement had been made yet. The Eagles had broken up.

The Eagles still contractually owed their record label another album, but there was no way the members were going to be able to work together again anytime soon. As Don Henley put it in an interview after the band’s breakup was made official, the only way that would happen would be when “hell freezes over”. Eagles fans were hungry for a live album, so the solution was easy.

Fourteen years later hell did freeze over. The Eagles put their differences aside for some time together on the road and in the studio and the result was a second live album by them that also included four new studio tracks. Appropriately, that fifteen song album was titled “Hell Freezes Over”.

Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! – Live! (Quadrophonic)

An amazing live performance by two legends. Recorded at what was probably the most incredible location to ever see a rock festival: inside the crater of the Diamondhead volcano in Honolulu Hawaii.

The Sunshine Festivals used to happen every year on New Year’s eve and day, and on the Fourth of July. The first festival was organized in 1970 and had about 12 thousand people in attendance. By 1979, it was attracting over 75 thousand people and had to be shut down due to concerns over the environmental concerns being caused by the huge crowds.

This blistering performance by Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles was recorded on New Year’s day in 1972.

Listening to this performance in quadrophonic (a 1970’s analog version of surround sound that preceded home theater systems) really adds to the listening experience of this record. Well, I guess technically, I’m not listening to it in quad, but I find Dolby Pro Logic surround sound (an analog surround sound from the 1990’s that predates Dolby Digital surround sound) brings out the same effect as quad. If it’s not the same, it’s darn close. (I’m thinking they didn’t try to totally reinvent the wheel for analog home theater surround sound). The ambience of the venue is capture perfectly here, with the rear speakers making me feel like I’m sitting right in the middle of the crowd.

I really need to look into picking up some more quad albums.

Japan – Oil On Canvas

I remember the first time I heard the band Japan. They were like so many classic rock artists I admired yet they were like nothing I had ever heard before. The Bowie, Roxy Music, Brian Ferry and The Talking Heads, were all in there at some measure, as were a few other bands that are best described as trend setters, not followers. But it was the combination of those influences that made Japan so unique. Japan was musical artistry in every sense of the word.

Still, I always wondered, was their sound all studio wizardry or could they actually pull their songs off live. I never had a chance to see Japan in concert but that question was still answered when I ran across a copy of “Oil on Canvas”, the only live album Japan released during their short recording career, from 1978 to 1981.

Fortunately, “Oil on Canvas” was a double LP, because a single record would not have been enough. As a matter of fact, Japan’s live performances here are so good. two records still leave me wanting more. The band absolutely nails the feeling of their studio recordings yet at the same time breathes new life into the songs, mixing them up and changing just enough to let you know they have no intention of performing a studio carbon copy.

The history of rock has always been filled with somebody’s favorite artist that didn’t make it for one reason or another. Its future will forever hold the same. Though the sounds and styles of these bands may differ drastically, one factor is always a constant: they are always true artists. I think Japan knew this when they released their only live record. That’s why they chose a name for it that alluded to true artistry; a name alluding to one of the most classical forms of artistic expression.

Oil on Canvas.

Missing Persons – Rhyme & Reason

It’s not unheard of for drummers to be involved in writing a song or two on a record but it is out of the norm for them to co-write nearly every song on it. On “Rhyme & Reason”, the second album from Missing Persons, drummer Terry Bozzio co-wrote all but song. Then again, Terry Bozzio is a very musically oriented percussionist. Not content in merely keeping the rhythm of a song, his playing often supplements the melody.

I remember seeing Terry Bozzio perform live in 2016. It was a one man show; just him and his drum kit – the largest touring drum kit in existence. Using a combination of electronic and acoustic drums and cymbals, plus triggered samplers and sequencers to repeat certain parts he would play, he performed entire songs, all his own compositions, with nothing more than his drum kit. It was an amazing show.

All the musicians in Missing Persons were amazingly talented. For this album, they focused more on complexity and intricacy in their songs, departing somewhat from their more commercially accessible debut “Spring Session M”. “Rhyme & Reason” is an album that offers something new to hear even after repeated listenings. Missing Persons would only release one more album after this before breaking up in 1986.

Yes – Yessongs

Sometimes two records just aren’t enough for your first live album – especially when your most popular songs were the epics Yes was famous for in 1973. Add into that the extended solos and improv jams, plus a excerpts from Rick Wakeman’s first solo album and you start to wonder why they didn’t go for four.

I’ve been wanting to listen to this album for a while, but I had to find the right time. More accurately. I had to find enough time. I love listening to “Yessongs” its entirety. It reminds me of what an incredible live band Yes was.

When you listen to the first five Yes albums, it’s easy to write off their musicianship as multiple take, over dubbed and edited together studio wizardry. Then, when you hear “Yessongs” it becomes an eye-opening – or rather, ear-opening experience; they really are that good. So good in fact, by the time I get to the end of “Yessongs”, I wish they had gone for four. It always leaves me wanting more. Then again, this was only 1973; Yes had plenty more to offer up after this.

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remais The Same (soundtrack)

In the short time between when I first saw the film “The Song Remains the Same” and bought the double album soundtrack, I didn’t remember the music from the movie well enough to realize all of the differences between the two. Then again, when I first saw the movie, I was probably in a great state of mind for listening to music; not so good for remembering all of it.

I’m not going to go into all the specifics between the music in the film and on the album – you can Google that easily enough – but in a nutshell, there are songs in the movie that didn’t make it to the record and one that’s the other way around. Also some of the same songs on both are not from the same performances. Sure, both the film and soundtrack were recorded in 1976, during three nights of sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York, but Zeppelin liked to make each of their concerts a unique experience for the audience. They always played their songs differently from one night to the next. When I listen to “The Song Remains the Same” today, I cant help but remember all the differences between the songs here and the music in the film. It’s so significant, I don’t know if I even consider this to be the soundtrack to the film; just a great live album.